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2005-05-27 15:08:35

CSME: 'Great Heat But Little Light' Say DPM

Government confirms it has no intention to commit to any international or regional grouping, which could endanger the best interests of The Bahamas.

Cynthia Pratt, Deputy Prime Minister and acting Prime Minister, in her historical delivery of the 2005/2006 Budget Communications, expressed that the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME) was a subject that garnered "a great deal of heat and not a lot of light."

She said that the Government did not intend to commit to any international or regional grouping, which could endanger the best interests of The Bahamas.

Her strong remarks implied that The Bahamas might not be seeking membership in the much contested single market and economy that has been the popular subject of headlines recently, as the convening of the CARICOM Heads of Government nears in July.

So, the question is, in light of this fact, will The Bahamas join upon approval for reservations to certain provisions outlined for member countries to follow under the CSME, or will it decline or postpone membership in order for more impact studies to be conducted, and for more Bahamians to be enlightened on the matter?

What is certain is that Fred Mitchell, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Public Service has undertaken extensive discourse on the CSME, addressing professionals at several organisations, such as financial services, including the insurance industry, and also various unions.

The tone of his addresses has been that the CSME is in fact in The Bahamas' best interest, with opportunities in the areas of trade and strengthened bargaining power on the international sphere as a direct result of regional backing through CSME membership.

With the Bahamas' interest in World Trade Organisation (WTO) and Free Trade Areas of The Americas (FTAA) membership, it is likely that these would be two of the bargaining benefits in the short term if it joined the CSME. "The primary advantage of the CSME to The Bahamas is the avoidance of isolation in international and regional discussions on economic issues," Mrs Pratt said.

One of Mr Mitchell's main arguments for the CSME has centred on the fact that The Bahamas will be seeking reservations to some provisions in the revised Treaty of Chaguaramas, which established the CSME.

Mrs Pratt, in her budget communications address also said," The Bahamas has derogations from aspects of the CSME, which would be contrary to our interests." Depending on how that statement is interpreted, the uncertainty about whether or not The Bahamas will become a member state of the CSME could also be brought into clearer purview.

Some arguments recently against The Bahamas joining the CSME have been on this same point. One such argument was by Former Minister of Economic Affairs, Zhivargo Laing, who said that the fact that we had to seek reservations to a Treaty whose basis rests on all its provisions, made it arbitrary to join. In essence, Mr Laing said that short changing CARICOM's collective vision to suit The Bahamas' vision for itself made for an unbalanced and unfair partnership.

During a post mortem analysis of the Budget presentation, Minister of State and Finance, James Smith, expressed his feeling that no responsible government would enter into any arrangements where people are worse off in the long run, comparative to their initial standing.

Additionally, Mr Smith agreed with the DPM and said that more debate is required to assess CSME implications for The Bahamas in determining whether or not it can compete in the proposed novice environment.

By: By Barry Williams, The Nassau Guardian

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